Archive for March, 2015

Luke 16:1-18 — Money, money, money, money, money. Did you know that there are approximately 2,350 verses in the Bible about money and possessions. That’s approximately 15% of the Bible. The Bible speaks about money and possession more than heaven and hell combined. And people say the Bible does not speak to us in our day and age anymore! What is more universal than money? What is a commonality between us and people of the Bible? It’s money. The need of it. The abuse of it. The lack of it. The management of it. It’s all there in the Bible. Jesus himself mentions it quite frequently.

But wait, before you go running off in saying Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen did indeed get the gospel correctly, Jesus did not preach their brand of prosperity gospel. The thing that Jesus taught about the most was the kingdom of heaven. He did not preach that God will bless you with riches if you do what He says. Often he preached quite the opposite. He did not preach that if you invest in Jesus you will get a 20% return on your investment annually as it seems some prosperity gospel preachers essentially preached.

Jesus preached that we should use our resources to honor God and to demonstrate love and mercy to our fellow man. In those things we will find blessings. Jesus preached that money was to be used as a tool for the kingdom not that which we worship.

This parable that is often called the Parable of the Shrewd Manager teaches us many things and we may need to spend several days here in this passage. What we will look at today is the where our money comes from. Tomorrow, we will look at how we use it. Thursday, we will look at money and integrity. And we will close out on Friday by looking at what could be if we had a proper perspective on God and money.

This parable reminds us that the source of our money is not from within us. We are simply managers of what we have been given. Many of believe that we make our own way in the world. We believe that our talents are something inate in us. We think that our talents are what give us money. Our ability to make money comes from God. God knitted us together in our mother’s wombs and knows every hair on our heads. He gave us each talents that are best suited to us. He gives us all talents to make the world operate. For example, if He gave us all the talent to be preachers, we would all be edified but we sure would be hungry! Our talents are from God and we should recognize that. Just as the manager in this story got his abilities to manage the estate of the rich man from the rich man. Without what had been given by the rich master, he would have nothing. We should recognize then the source of our power to earn a living. Our rich master is God. He graces us with the talents that we have to be accountants, bakers, housewives, stay at home moms, information technology professionals, road construction workers, carpenters, factory workers, preachers, teachers, customer service representatives, you name it. God made us from the moment of conception to have the talents that He designed for us individually. Our talents are part of His grand design for the world such that we play a role in the world He has created as it hurdles daily toward the end all of things. How do you think we seem to gravitate to certain professions or trades? It is because God gave us those particular pre-dispositions from birth. We gravitate toward that which we find fulfilling when it comes toward our work. In school, we gravitate toward those subjects that are in our wheelhouse. Where do you think our wheelhouse, our sweet spot, our passion for what we do comes from? It comes from God.

When we come that realization, it can be one of those wow moments. We think so often in this world that we are our own masters. In capitalist societies such as in the US and most well-developed nations, we think we are the ones that make us. We are self-made men and women. We control. We decide. When you realize that what you do for a living that gives us the ability to make money and gives us that inner satisfaction that it comes from God and not some thing that we did, it changes your perspective. You did not just randomly come to this profession or trade that you are in. As anyone knows when we are not in the wheelhouse of talents that got gave us as for as our work goes, we are not fulfilled. We gravitate toward those jobs that utilize the gifts that we have been given by our Creator. We have talents and they come from God. He imprinted us with our talents when He created us is in that mysterious moment when sperm and egg unite to create that spark of life that becomes you and I. Think about it. Your talents are from God. You are given your talents from the Rich Master in heaven.

When we get this perspective right, it changes everything. It causes me to think of my work as my glory to God because He designed me for the profession or trade that I do. If I do not display these talents to the best of my ability I am dishonoring God. If I do not use my talents for good then I am dishonoring my Creator. If I use my talents in evil or deceitful ways, I am rejecting the very One who gave me my talents. If I do not honor God with the money that accrues from my use of the talents he gave me, I am dishonoring him and I am not praising Him. He gave me the ability to make money at what I do for a living. I must honor Him in not only how I do my job but in the ways that I use the money that my God-gifted talents allow me to make.

Praise God with your talents. Praise God with the money that comes from using your talents. Amen.

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Luke 15:11-32 — For the past two days we have visited this passage and looked at from the view of the prodigal son and from the view of the elder brother. Today, as we visit this passage one last time, we look at this passage from the view of the father. There are several things that we must notice about the father. First, he breaks with tradition and gives his son his inheritance now instead of after his death. Second, we must note that the father had been watching for his son and that he came running when he saw him. Third, he put his robe and a signet ring on his son we they met. Finally, the father puts on a feast for his son.

First, we see that the father gave his son his inheritance while he was still alive. This act was pretty unusual even for our day. Most children do not get their inheritance, if any, from their parents until their parents are dead and gone. It was even more highly unusual in first century Palestine. The listeners of Jesus while he was relating this parable would have been one of shock at such a thing. However, the point here is that God lavishes us with His love even when we have not done anything to deserve it. God loves us even we rebel against Him. We want what we want and we want it now. That is our cry. The youngest son was being completely self-centered here but yet the father loved him anyway. He loves us even when He knows that we are going to reject all that He stands for. God loves even those who reject Him. He lavishes His love upon us even when He knows that we are going to wander. He loves those who completely reject Him and believe in themselves, religions that have no basis in Him, you name it. He loves us when we turned out back on him and go to the far off lands of our desires. He gave us His Son for us on the cross even when we are sinning and flicking our finger at God. He loves us anyway. He has lavished us with His most precious gift while we are living. We are given the gift of eternal life while we are yet living when we reject sin and accept Jesus as Our Savior. The gift has been given even when we reject it. The gift has been given even when we do not deserve it.

Second, we see that the father in the story is watching and waiting. You might expect in this story of a wayward son that he would have had to come to the gate of the home and beg to be seen by the father before the father would have even recognized that the son was coming. However, in this story we see that the father was looking to the horizon for his son. He must have been doing this constantly. We see in the story that the son is seen by his father while he was yet still a long way off. When he saw him and recognized that it was son, he went running after him. The point here is that God is a pursuing God. He has been pursuing us since the first sin was committed in the Garden. In Genesis 3:9, after the first sin, God calls out in the Garden to Adam, “where are you?”. God knew exactly where Adam was but He wanted Adam to know that He was, indeed, pursuing Him. God pursued Israel through the centuries giving them every chance to come to Him through the work of the prophets. God pursues us through His Son Jesus Christ. God entered into human history to pursue us in the flesh as the Son. God is watching and waiting for each of us to find our way home through Jesus Christ. He keeps His eyes on the horizon. He is watching and waiting for each of us to come home. He comes running when He sees us. He is ready for you to come home. Just come home. His love for you is far greater than anything that you have ever done to display your reckless rejection of Him.

Third, even though there was probably evidence of the filth of his son, the father asks for the finest robe to be placed upon his son. He also asks that a signet ring be brought and put on his finger. His son is probably filthy and dirty and doesn’t deserve any of this respect. Let’s not forget the significance of the ring. A signet ring was used by the wealthy and by kings to make an impression on documents or on wax that sealed scrolls together. The ring would have the seal of the family or kingly line on it. When documents or seals had the impression of the seal on them, it gave authenticity to the document. It verified that it was from the wealthy landowner or king that sent it. Thus, we have two things here that Jesus is trying to impress upon us. First, that we are clothed in His righteousness, the finest robe, when we come home to Him. Even though we are but filthy rags in the presence of the Father, we are clothed in the pure, sinless righteousness of the Son when we accept Jesus as our Savior. We by ourselves are but sinful creatures filled with the filth of sin. But through Jesus we are given a fine robe to cover us. We are still sinners and filthy underneath but we are covered by the cloak of righteousness that we do not deserve but are given in love. The Father sees Jesus when He sees us once we accept Him as our Savior. He no longer sees the filthy rags of wild living, of our self-seeking squandering of the gifts He has given us. He sees the robe beautiful and pure. The second thing is that when we come home to Him, God puts the ring on our finger. We are now a member of the family. We have all the rights and privileges accorded to a royal family member. We do not have do anything, serve an penance, or earn our way to a certain status to payback for the things we have done in our past. We are immediately given membership in the royal court. No back row seat. We are front in center. We are made whole. We are made clean. We are made equal to all those who have accepted Christ as our Savior. That is the glory of being a Christ follower, regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what you have done in your past we are given full and rightful places in the royal family of our Savior. So, if you are a new Christian, you have the same standing in the Father’s family as someone who has been a Christian for 40-50 years and we are glad you are here. We are glad you are a part of the family. We want to put you to work in the kingdom immediately based on the talents God gave you. You do not have to sit on the sidelines and wait til you are considered first string material. You can get on the playing field now, right now. You are His child. A newborn child is just as much a member of a family as is the oldest child!

Finally, we notice that the father in the parable is so happy that his son has returned home that he puts on a feast in his honor. Jesus is telling us that all of heaven including our Heavenly Father celebrates when one of His children accepts Christ as their Savior and returns home. There is no condemnation for things done in the past. There is celebration. I think of my own children in this moment. We as parents love our children so much that we love them despite their mistakes and their rebellions. We celebrate their wins more than we dwell on their failures. Just think of your child. Don’t you forgive those times that are bad just to get to the good stuff. Those moments that your child makes your heart burst with loving pride that they made the right choices and did the right things. You see these things not as hey I caused that to happen but rather because you love your child and it warms your soul to see them growing up! God has that love for us. He celebrates our wins and forgives our failures when we finally grow up! We finally grow up when we recognize our need for a Savior and come home to Him. He celebrates! He is sooooo happy. My child has come home. He was dead and now He is alive. He was lost but now He is found. Think of how you feel when you have lost your child for more than a minute in a department store. You are frantic. But you are so overjoyed and filled with happiness when you find your lost child. The celebration in your heart in not containable. At that moment, you are not thinking of what goofy thing your child did to get lost from you, you are just glad they are back in your sight and in your arms. God feels that way about us!

Come home, the Father is waiting. Come home. He has a fine robe of Jesus’ righteous to clothe you in. Come home. He has a signet ring for you to show you that you are a full member of Christ’s royal family. Come home. There is a celebration waiting for you as the Father is just so overjoyed to have you home. There is no condemnation here. You are welcomed to the seat of honor. You are a full-fledged member of the family. You are His child. No hoops to jump through. No earning you way to some base level of acceptance. You are fully accepted. You are hugged and loved on and we are just glad that you are home. The Father is most glad of all! My child who once was lost is now home! Do you want to come home? Just cry out to Jesus! Ask Him to come into your heart and be your Savior and have the Holy Spirit change you from the inside out? Come home. Come home!

Luke 16:11-32 — Yesterday, we looked at this parable of the prodigal son from the perspective of the prodigal son himself. Today, we look at this parable from the perspective of the eldest son. We will finish it up tomorrow with a look at it from the perspective of the father in the story.

This story, when looking at it from the perspective of the older brother, kind of reminds me of my own relationship with my brother. I only have one brother, as it seems there is in his story since there is no mention of other brothers. He is a year and a half older than I am. Talk about sibling jealousies. We had them. We use to try to get each other in trouble with our parents so that we could have feelings of superiority over the other. Like on birthdays, we would be jealous of the special attention that the other would get on those days. I don’t know why we were jealous of the other so much. Even when something good would happen to the other one, we would try to bring the other one down. The rivalry was intense. We could not celebrate with each other. The glory accorded to my brother was glory that I did not receive and vice versa. During much of my growing up, I had a tendency to get in trouble more often than my brother. He was the good son and I was the rebel. He seemed to always be more in line with doing what the parents required than me. Must be the older brother/younger brother thing. It’s not fair! A phrase that rang out constantly between us! A phrase that is central to our passage today. It was not until we grew up and got out of the house, got married, started paying bills, and raising families that we finally got over those jealousies. I am glad those days are over. When you think back on it, the jealousies were very tiring!

This good son/rebel son thing. I can see it so vividly because of my own experience. I am willing to bet that many of you out there can identify with this story as well. It is a sure bet that everyone listening to Jesus in 1st century Palestine on that day could identify with the story Jesus as he was telling it that day. In this story, the older brother had great difficulty in accepting the younger brother when he returned. He had lived the dutiful life. He had done all the right things. He had plowed the fields. He had worked hard. He had obeyed his father. He had done things in the prescribed way. Then in waltzes the younger brother who had lived a life of partying. The younger brother had seen things and done things probably that the older brother had only heard about but never would do for fear of breaking the rules. This older brother prided himself on his ability to keep all the rules and do all the right things. He figured with his brother as the example of what not to do, he would be elevated in his father’s eyes. By keeping the rules and doing it all according to plan, he figured that his father would give him special blessing. He had worked for it. He had earned it. See dad? See what I do? See I am not out there like my little brother, I am here with you doing what you say?

The older son is not happy at all to see his little brother’s return. He is upset that his dad is throwing him a party. I do everything you asked, dad. You give me no parties for doing what you asked but yet your youngest son who has lived this party lifestyle and squandered every dime you gave him. He gets a party. Why? It’s not fair! He was not filled with love for the safe return of his brother that he had probably not seen in a long time. The eldest son refused to forgive even though his dad had. His resentment over the level of celebration accorded to his little brother shows just how lost he is. He had no forgiveness in him. He was all about the rules. He kept them and His brother didn’t. His brother should be punished and he should be elevated above Him.

This story was aimed directly at the religious elite in Jesus’ day. Those who prided themselves in not breaking the Law of Moses. They developed so many rules and regulations that kept them from breaking the law that the avoidance of breaking the law had become their religion. It had also become a social separator too. If you broke the law, you were an outcast. The avoidance of sin was more important than anything else. The law was intended to show us that we need to seek God and keep Him central to our lives. The law was to show us our need for forgiveness. The law was intended to show us that we cannot be good enough to save ourselves. It was to point us to our need for a Messiah, a Savior, our need for Jesus. But keeping the rules was their god. This parable may have been spoken directly to the Pharisees when Jesus spoke it verbally but by example He speaks directly to us today through the Word. Are we as churches today not often the older brother in this story?

Do we often judge others harshly as churches for having lived a sin-filled life while we have often lived lives according to the rules? Often churches are suspicious of those who repent and turn their life around. Sometimes, we make them feel uncomfortable when they walk into our doors. So uncomfortable often that they leave our midst. When LifeSong opened up at its current location, the scrolling message on the sign outside caused quite a stir in the community. Prostitutes, thieves, liars, and other sinners welcome here is what it said. That is what we are here for. Not to separate ourselves from the world around us because we keep the rules better. We are to welcome those who want to raise themselves out of the pig sties that is their life. We should recognize ourselves as sinners too. We do not keep the rules perfectly and never will. We need our Savior just as much as the sinner who just repented. We cannot earn grace by good behavior, by keeping rules, by avoiding certain things. We sin. They sin. We all sin. We all need our Savior. Welcome the sinner back home. If someone is willing to repent of their sins and seek the same Savior as we do, we should be the first to celebrate. We should remember the gift we were given. We should remember that Jesus commanded us to make disciples not sit back and judge the world. We should remember that those who come into our house and leave their pig sty life behind means one less soul to be tormented in hell. We should rejoice and be glad.

Not only as churches but as individuals too we should be able to extend forgiveness to others as we have been forgiven. We all have situations in life where we have refused to forgive. Maybe it is a spouse who has cheated on you. Maybe it is an ex-spouse that seems hellbent on destroying for divorcing them. Maybe it is a friend that has betrayed you. Maybe it is someone who has hurt your child deeply. Maybe it is someone at work that has screwed you over more times than you can count. I am not saying that we have to be doormats for those that have hurt us or our families but if we refuse to forgive, we allow the hurt to become our god. I have a situation in my own life where forgiveness is what I must do even though there is great cynicism as to whether the change is real in another person. I want to forgive and accept that the change is real but why am I so skeptical? I must remember that Christ can do amazing things in a person’s life and that the change can be radical. It is not mine to judge. It is mine to be the prodigal son’s father when it comes to those who have previously displayed no fruits of the spirit. It is mine to demonstrate the same love as Jesus displayed. Certainly, we will see whether the fruits of the spirit exist over time but it is not ours to judge the authenticity of someone else’s salvation. We are to give them the benefit of the doubt and let their new character speak for itself. We are to accept them into the fold and nuture them. It is God’s job to know their heart. It is only ours to observe the fruits of the spirit and we should be pulling for them and cheering them on to display the fruits of the spirit, rather than being suspicious and judgmental and cheering for them to fail and show who we think they really are.

Father help me to understand that it is You that is judge and not me. Help me to remember the joy of my own salvation. Help me to love others when their turn from their sin filled lifestyle. Help me to celebrate when they quit reveling in their sins and come to you. Help me to be nurturing to those who seek You. Help me to love as you loved me. Help me to see those who seek as someone to be discipled and not made to feel as though they have to earn their win in our church doors or into my heart. Help me to love with the love that you have for us. Help me not to by cynical about someone’s salvation and allow them to bear their fruit. Allow me to forgive and not let the hurts become my reason for not loving. Help me to restore relationships just as you have restored me to yourself through the work of your Son in my life. Amen.

Luke 16:11-32 — This passage, known as the parable of the prodigal son, is probably one of the most famous of the parables of Jesus. I think to really get the most out of it, we must look at it from the perspective of the three main characters in it, the prodigal son, the father, and the older son. Today, let’s look at it from the perspective of the younger son.

The younger son is any of us. We are all like the younger son. There are very few of us that are saved as children. I know only a few whose claim of salvation at a young age is genuine. And, to those folks, I tip my hat. To know Jesus as your Savior without having had to go through the hard knocks of a hard knock life to get the foot of the cross is awesome. Man, reflecting back on my own life, what a difference that would have made. For I, my friends, had to learn the hard way much like the prodigal son. Here is my take on his story because it is so similar to my story and is probably similar to yours. Oh to not have lived this lifestyle and to have known Christ sooner…

The prodigal son demands his inheritance, goes off into the world (forgetting where he came from and his father) and squanders his inheritance on riotous living. He lived the party lifestyle. I am sure that it involved living the equivalent of today’s nightclub lifestyle. Parties every night. Most likely, he thought he would find love in the fog of booze and loose women. Having the party and taking women to bed I am sure was his main aim in life. He had no forethought of saving money for a rainy day or investing his fortune. It was all about his present day pleasures. Every dime he had was dedicated to making him feel good, making his body feel good, but it was temporary so the process had to be repeated daily. It was all well and good. Life seem perfect in moments. Because happiness seemed so fleeting, the process had to be repeated daily. We don’t pretend to know how much inheritance he was given, but apparently he was able to be self-sufficient for a long period of time. Wild parties were the aim of life because it was in those fleeting moments of seeking self pleasure that he thought he was happy. He probably sought happiness in the arms of women. He would make sure he kept them happy so that he could have what he thought he needed to be happy. He would accept crazy and manipulative to get the pleasure he so desperately sought. In the those nights of fleeting pleasure, he measured his worth and his happiness. The pursuit of pleasure. The pursuit of the feel good made him a slave to the approval of others. He probably compromised his soul often, that feeling that you are doing the wrong thing but you do it anyway, just to keep the pleasures within grasp. Is this prodigal son of the parable or is it me? It all blends together because we are one and the same.

However, like all lives lived for the purpose of self-pleasure it comes crashing down around us at some point. The money runs out. There is a job loss. There is a divorce. There is a financial disaster. There is something. Trouble strikes either through the efforts of others upon us or by the results of our own stupid decisions. The prodigal son loses everything. He finds himself as a hired hand feeding pigs. According to the Law, pigs were unclean animals and could not be eaten. The Jews took the whole clean and unclean animal rules very seriously so for him to find himself slopping pigs was the degradation of all degradations.

How many times in seeking our own way have we compromised our morals? We rationalize it away as being just this one time and once that line is crossed just one time becomes a lifestyle. Life of every changing lines in the sand becomes our life. What was once wildly unacceptable in our past now becomes things that we rationalize as acceptable now because it meets the needs of the moment. The line in the sand called integrity is so far off in the distance now that it is no longer a line in the distance it is a dot because it is so far off in the distance. We live in the fog of “this is my life now” and “this is how it’s going to be from now on.” Compromised. Valueless. Just existing in the slop that is our lives. There is no joy. It’s just trying to make do with our lives in the situations that we find ourselves. One day though, we wake up and look at the mess that our lives have become with an eye of reality. There has got to be something better than this. I have tried everything. I have tried to find happiness in things, in the pleasures of women, and all the stuff that money can buy. Pleasing myself and pleasing others so I could please myself and what do I have to show for it. A trail of destruction, used up relationships, relationships that have thrown me to the ash heap, and no future.

This is the prodigal son’s point of realization. This is my point of realization. This is where we find Jesus. When we look in the mirror and see that our self-seeking for what it is. When we find ourselves in the pig sty, before this moment comes, we often blame others for us being there. We blame the ex-spouse. We blame the ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. If only that would have not…If only they would have…That fuels us. Blaming others for our troubled life. It helps us rationalize the slop that we find ourselves in. One day we wake up though. We rationalize that the pig sty is actually ok to be slogging around it. We make it beautiful in our minds. However, one day we wake up and see, actually see, that we are in the pig sty. We quit blaming others for where we are. We see where we are and what part we played in it. We become broken. We see ourselves for the liars, theives, adulterers, idolaters, greed-filled, evil beings that we are. We see ourselves and our situation. We cry out to our Father. We come humbly home to Him. We ask Jesus to take the wheel.

He clothes us in His finest robe. He accepts us and forgives us for the past that we have. The ugly past that we have is no longer important. He accepts us as if we had not sin because of the robe. The robe of righteousness that He places upon us. He makes us clean in the robe. Even though we are still pig sty sloppy underneath the robe, he treats us as if we are clean. Our past is covered in His robe. We are accepted as clean and pure in Him. He invites us to His banquet table in the position of honor. Even though we are wayward whores who have compromised our principles and given away our lives to our lusts, He is the faithful husband who accepts his wife back into his home and treats her with high regard because he loves her so much. There is nothing that you and I have done that cannot be forgiven when we reach our knees in front of our Father. We are made clean in His robes. We are made clean in Jesus.

Have you open your eyes to the pig sty of your life? Wake up and see the empty life without Jesus? Come home. Come home. Your heavenly Father awaits. Come home. Come to Jesus. He will forgive you. He forgave the the prodigal son and made Him new again. He did it for me. He can do it for you? Come home.

Luke 15:8-10 — The parable of the lost coin is more than some lady obsessing over a coin. To us, in our culture, coins that are in current circulation are not of great value. In those days, there was no paper currency. Coins were the basis of currency. Thus, coins could have great value depending on the metal of the coin, its denomination and so on. To not understand this context prevents you from understanding this parable fully. Second, it was a tradition in first century Jewish society for a bride to receive 10 silver coins as a wedding gift. Besides their monetary value, as women are generally more sentimental than men, these coins often would have great sentimental value to the woman as the years went by.

To modernize the illustration, just think about your wife or your fiancee. The diamond ring is probably there most cherished possession. More than any house you could buy them. More than any car you could buy them. More than any other jewelry you could buy them. What would you wife or fiancee do if their engagement ring was lost? They would freak out and probably so would you. It is not so much about the ring (though often they are quite valuable in real monetary terms) but about what the ring represents. It is of great intrinsic personal value. It represents the marriage or the promise of marriage itself. Your wife or fiancee would turn the house upside down trying to find. Maybe the plumbing in the bathroom or kitchen sinks would be disassembled in search for the ring. Your house would look like burglars had ransacked the place. Mattresses thrown off beds. Everything in drawers or cabinets would be strewn about. It would be chaos. An engagement ring is not something that you would give up on finding and just buy another one. An engagement ring is irreplaceable and it must be found! No exceptions. No excuses. And when the ring is found! Oh my! The joy! The laughter! The tears! The personal happiness is so great that your wife or fiancee is almost delirious! She would throw a party to celebrate if she could! She will at least call all her gal pals and share the great news of the finding of the engagement ring.

Rejoicing over finding her wedding silver coins in the first century. Rejoicing over finding her diamond engagement ring in the twenty first century. Twenty centuries between illustrative parables but the point is the same. The same joy, the same sense of celebration is found in heaven when someone repents of their sins and asks Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. According to Luke 15:8-10, there is great joy in heaven, among God’s angels, when someone accepts the gift of their salvation. In my mind, there is like the old McDonalds’ signs where it said over 10 billion served. In my simplistic and goofy sense of things, there is a counter in heaven where the total souls saved are tracked. Anytime a soul is saved, a loud ding is heard and the counter advances forward one number and there is a group of angels assigned the hallelujah duty anytime it goes off. That is the joy that exists in heaven over a salvation. That is the joy that we should have to.

Imagine the joy that Jesus has right now over everyone who turns away from their old way of life and comes to Him. He pursues us with the same diligent fervor that first century woman pursued her misplaced coin or the twenty-first century woman pursues her misplaced diamond ring. Jesus diligently seeks the lost. What if we did the same in churches today? What if we placed a real priority on evangelism. What if we did not leave this job to the preachers. What if we all saw ourselves as ministers of God’s Word and saw the Great Commission as the command that it is and not as an optional activity or some evangelism focus weekend. What if we were such joyful people at our own salvation that it pours out of us naturally. We should be people of Jesus overflow. Can I tell you what Jesus did in my life? Can I? Can I? Can I?….ummm…Can I?

What if we had greater concern for people dying without having known Jesus Christ as their Savior. What if hell was real to us and not just that thing that we do not talk about. What if it really bothered us that people might go to hell and be separated from God there. What if it really bothered us about the reality of what hell is. The descriptions of it are not pretty. What if it really did bother us that anyone should suffer such a fate by not knowing or rejecting Jesus. We should have that same urgency as your wife or fiancee has about finding her ring as we should about seeking out the lost in our midst. We do not have to go to Iran or North Korea or China or India or Japan to have urgency over helping lost souls find Jesus (although we most certainly need people to go to those places and assist the Holy Spirit in spreading the good news). But we should have urgency right where we live, work, and play. People can condemn themselves to hell without knowing Jesus as their Savior just as easily in Greenville-Spartanburg as they can in Tokyo, or Tehran, Pyongyang, or Mumbai. We must seek the lost sheep in all places both here and abroad. We must have that Billy Graham urgency for lost souls that took him all over the USA and the world to preach the gospel. It mattered to Billy. It matters to Jesus. It should matter to us.

What greater joy is there to see someone accept Jesus Christ as their Savior when it is for real and not just some spiritual warm-fuzzy. What joy it is to see life change so profound in someone you never thought would change. What joy to see someone who was a sour, sarcastic, mean, self-centered, self-seeking person have such a radical change into a person of love, joy, giving, uplifting nature because Jesus came into their heart! Wow! Don’t we want to see that joy in others just as we have enjoyed! This is a challenge to myself as much as it is to you. I must begin to remember the joy of my own salvation and share that message with a world that increasingly does not know Jesus just right around me. I must teach them of the story of God pursuit of us that started with the first sin and culminated at the cross and will end with God establishes the new heaven and new earth. Give me that joy at the victory that we have in Jesus. Give me that “your wife finding her lost engagement ring feeling” about my own salvation so much so that it spills out of me naturally to the world around me. Can I tell about what Jesus did in my life? Can I? Can I? Can I?

Luke 15:1-7 — This passage reminds me of something that happened between my oldest daughter and her little kitten recently. Her kitten has recently started going outside and learning about the world outside her house. The other day, while out in the big bad world, apparently she had got herself into trouble with another bigger, larger, older cat. This older cat had chased Nala up a tree. Meghan began to get worried about Nala so she went outside looking for her. Calling her name from the back porch, she would hear faint cries every time she called out the name, Nala. As Meghan’s worry began to mount, she started wandering around the back yard calling Nala’s name with more frequency and more concern. She would hear a faint cry every time she called Nala’s name. Meghan began to follow the sounds of the meows when she called out her cat’s name. Finally, she found Nala in a tree at the edge of the property. Nala was high enough in the tree where my vertically challenged daughter (i.e., short) could not reach up and grab the cat. She made eye contact with her cat and began to talk lovingly to her precious Nala. These two are big buddies. Nala loves Meghan and Meghan loves Nala.

Meghan had to continue to coax the cat to just jump into her arms. Nala was fearful of doing so at first. Nala’s fear of falling to the ground was outweighing her ability to trust Meghan to catch her. Three paws wrapped around the tree limb she was on and one paw reaching out but not being able to reach her master, Meghan. Meghan continued to assure this young cat that she would catch her. Finally, her trust in her master overcame her of her situation. She jumped the short distance in her master’s arms who delivered on her promise to catch Nala. Nala clinged every so tightly, claws and all, to Meghan. Meghan and kitty were both so happy. Meghan pursued her cat, found her, assured her that she would catch her, Nala had to trust that her master would catch, her master did and both found joy in the reunion. This is so similar to our parable today in Luke 15:1-17.

In this parable, the Shepherd leaves the 99 found and safe sheep behind and pursues the 1 sheep who is out there lost. The Pharisees were bothered by the fact that Jesus associated with known sinners. Is it not better for us to seek those that are lost and bring them back into the fold rather than reject them as being beyond hope. We often find ourselves as Christians living in our own “little Christian bubbles,” as I like to call them, where we only associate with church people. We fail to reach out to those around us who are not saved. We fail to pursue friendships with known sinners. We fail to seek out the lost. Jesus threw all the rules of the Pharisees that they had created to keep them miles away from being unclean. They created walls between them and those that could not keep up with their law. Jesus was invited into sinner’s homes and he met them where they were. He extended them grace and love even though He knew some would reject it. He continued to pursue the lost sheep. The found sheep do not need finding. It is the lost who need finding. It is the lost who need pursuing and rescuing. The rescue operation begin in Genesis 3:9, when God calls to Adam, “where are you?” and comes to completion on the cross. In Genesis, God certainly knew where Adam was but sin had separated Adam from Him and God was pursuing Him and ask to come to Him, seek forgiveness, and be restored. This pursuit has continued throughout history and is finally settled at the cross. That death and the resurrection that follows is offered for every lost sheep. Salvation is for every one lost sheep there is and ever has been or ever will be.

What if Meghan thought it was not worth the trouble to pursue that cat that she dearly loves? She would have left her cat to fend for herself in the world, clinging to the tree that she found herself in. What if Meghan did not think it was worth it to take time out of her day to find her kitty that she thinks the world of? Jesus pursues us in the same way. He comes to find us in our mess. He comes to find us in the trouble that we have gotten ourselves in. He comes to meet us in the tree that we have gotten ourselves into. He calls our name out in our wilderness of sin. He hears our faint cry. He follows the trail of our tears, sorrow and sin. He comes to the tree where we are at the end of our limb. We are captured by sin in our tree. We know that there is something better than this and we cry out to our pursuing Jesus. We know that life is not supposed to like this. We are stuck in our sin and it has us out on a limb. We are afraid and alone. Our sin has pushed out on a limb and we have no way to get back on solid ground. We cling to what little support we have left. We are at the end of the limb where we find ourselves because of our sins. We cry out with our faint meows. He finds us in our tree. He says He will catch us if we will only jump into his arms. He says do not fear. I will catch you. I will catch you. See the love in your Master’s eyes. His words are true. He will catch you. Jump into His arms. Jump now. Trust in your Master. He is going to catch you when you fall and wrap you in His arms and love you and take away all your fear. He pursues you. He has found you. He loves you so much. Just jump into His arms. He will love you just as if you had never been lost and had strayed away. He will love you as if you were worth all the trouble to go find you. He will love you like the cross was worth all the trouble. He will love you enough to set His heavenly glory aside and come to earth and die for you on the cross so that your sins would and will die with Him.

Meghan pursued her love, her little kitty, just as Christ pursues each one of us. From Genesis to Revelation it has been about the pursuit. God is relentless in His love for us. He sent His Son to find the lost sheep. It is His relentless, unstoppable love that finds us in our trees clinging to a branch. Jump. Our Savior is here. Waiting. Telling you it is OK to let go of your old life. He will will catch you.

Father in Heaven, help us to be pursuers of the lost just as you have relentlessly pursued us. Help us to not insulate ourselves from sinners. We are sinners too. Just ones covered by grace. Jesus never kept Himself from sinners. Help us to pursue the lost. Help to tell the lost about the rescue operation that started in the Garden and culminated at the cross. Help us to tell them to jump into the arms of their Savior. Help us to tell them of your relentless love. Help us use this season of the year to talk to the world around us about your search for them. You pursue. You want every lost sheep to find you. Amen.

Luke 14:25-35 — Counting the cost of following Jesus Christ. What? There’s a cost? It’s not always going to be easy? Hmmmm.

Have you ever wanted to do something but after you got into it you found out that it was really a lot harder than you thought? Being a member of a football team for example looks like a whole lot of fun on Friday nights (high school), or Saturdays (college), or Sundays (professional). At each level of the sport, the commitment becomes greater and greater. In high school and college, not only do you have to practice almost daily and study the playbook, film and game plan for the upcoming game, you still have to go to school. It looks like so much fun when you are at the games. Then, in the media and by their supporters, these athletes are given star status. Sure there are those who do not dedicate themselves to their studies, but most do and it takes real sacrifice to be a football player. In the pros, although they no longer have to worry about studying for school, they have to increase their level of knowledge of the game, increase their practice time, and simply their dedication to the sport. It may look glamorous on television. These athletes get the money, the cars, the girls, the glamorous life. But what we don’t see is the amazing amount of work that must go into being a professional football player. Only those that are truly talented, and truly dedicated to their craft remain. At all levels of the sport, if you are not dedicated to doing whatever it takes to be successful at the sport, you will fall away. Many want the glory and status accorded these athletes but few want to do all the work necessary to be worthy of the status. It is easier to quit than do all the hard work.

I think if American football would have already been invited during the first century, Jesus would have used it for illustrations. He may have used it in this passage. Jesus probably would have been a great quarterback too. The Son of God goes back to pass, it’s a perfect spiral perfectly placed….I digress….must get back to the point. Jesus makes the point here that there will be a cost to following Him. His following had become pretty signficiant by this point. He was achieving rock star status by today’s terms. There were large groups of people following Him from town to town. It was the new cool “in thing”. Jesus was so different. Following Him was probably considered cool. Jesus’ way of looking at things was very radical. New ideas often attract crowds…at first.

Jesus uses illustrations of the cross, the very powerful evidence of Roman rule and the very method by which He would die. Jesus uses the illustration of constructing a building. Jesus uses the illustration of going to battle against a larger force.

Jesus used the cross to indicate to His audience that those who were superficial in their support of Him would fall away when it would really cost them something. The cross was one of the cruelest forms of punishment invented by man. The Romans not only nailed you to the cross they made your carry it through town to the place of execution as a form of public humiliation and display of power of Rome. Are you willing to be a Christ follower when the going gets tough? Are you willing to be a Christ follower when it might be humiliating to you? Are you willing to die for Jesus? Here in America, this is a real question. We live in such cushy comfort. We do not even come close to being physically persecuted for being Christian. We may be someday but for now the worst we get is ridiculed or marginalized by an increasingly secular society. Even as we seem to be losing ground in the public debates of what is acceptable in society and what is not, we still do not know persecution in the same way that a North Korean or Chinese Christian. We do not know persecution in the way that Middle Eastern Christians in the Islamic nations there know persecution. How many megachurches or churches at all would we have today in the US if we suffer persecution at that level.

Jesus uses the other illustrations to show us that we must consider the cost of being His follower. Whether it be subtle or blatant, there is a cost. We may be called by God to leave the cushy comfort of our 5 and 6 figure jobs to go spread the gospel in the slums of Mumbai to girls trapped in the sex trafficking trade. We may be called to leave our two story home to live in the Islamic dominated nation of Malaysia to spread the gospel to those who have been taught that they will be killed if they leave Islam. We may be called to preach the gospel in Amman, Jordan where ISIS would behead you as soon as look at you. There is a cost. We may be called simply to leave your current career to become a pastor of a local church here in this country. You may be called simply to stand up for Jesus rather than blend in with your surrounding culture. We may be called to stand up in compassionate ways against that which our culture accepts and glorifies as the new normal. We may be called to not look the other way when our company’s management wants to do something unethical and wants you to participate in it. It may be that we are called simply not give into premarital or extramarital relations when our flesh cries out that its gonna be so good. It may be that you are called to give tithe rather than buy a new car every two years, or have that jet ski. It may be that we are called to serve our fellow man rather than go on that summer vacation to Barbados. There is always a cost of being a Christ follower that involves humbling our fleshly desires and doing what Jesus called us to do, love God and love others. Really love. Really care about where others will spend eternity. Care about it so much that we dedicate ourselves, whatever the cost, whatever the sacrifice may be, to spreading the gospel, living lives that show who He is, living lives of integrity, living lives of service to others, living lives that create disciples that create disciples.

Just as being a football player seems glamorous from the outside, it is a lot of hard work on the inside. It requires constant dedication in this day and age. It used to be that football players could forget about football for a while after football season. Now, at all levels, it requires constant effort. Football is a whole lot more than being in the spotlight in the state championship game, or the national championship game, or the Super Bowl. There is a whole, whole, whole lot of work that goes behind it. Not everyone is willing. That’s the difference between a championship team and those that are not. A championship team is the one that puts in even more effort, dedication, willingness to submit to the needs of the team than the others. Jesus wants to be a championship team. He wants those who are aware of the sacrifices necessary to be His true followers. He hates lukewarm (see Revelation 3 and the Church at Sardis). He does not want half-hearted followers. He wants our whole heart. but He warns us there will be a cost at some point in our lives where it is crunch time. There will be a time where we must choose between Jesus and our comfort, between Jesus and the crowd’s desires, between Jesus and maybe even our life. There will be a cost. Are you and I willing, ready, and able to say Yes Jesus I will pay the price.

Father, may we live lives that speak of you no matter the circumstance, no matter the cost to us. Help us to be so submitted to you that we do not care what the world throws at us. Help us to be so dedicated to loving you and loving others that we will seek to please you above all the comforts of this temporary world. Amen.